All weekend, the weather had been the story for the Winter Classic between the Blues and Blackhawks.
Would it rain? Would the sunshine kill the ice? Would the combo ruin the Winter Classic?
When the puck dropped shortly after noon on Monday, the real action took over and the Blues went to work.
After a slow start, the Blues slapped the Blackhawks around and won 4-1 in front of 46,556 fans packed into Busch Stadium. The percentage of Blues fans easily beat the Chicago red, and for once in a calendar year, it was quite alright seeing a sea of blue dominate Busch Stadium.
Vladimir Tarasenko may have been the star of the show with his two late goals to break a tie, but it was Jake Allen doing hard work in the net stopping several key shots against the Hawks that kept the game tied.
The Hawks scored early on a wicked deflection that kicked off Colton Parayko's glove, but after that they couldn't push anything past Allen.
For the young goaltender, it was a much needed lift. Like the rest of the Blues, he didn't have a great December. His save percentage and goals against average were below his career average, and the first three months of the season has seen mixed results for Allen in net. It didn't matter Monday. Allen had it going, especially during the second and third periods. He stopped 22 shots, and even made a couple baseball like glove snags out of mid air to stop a couple Hawk rushes.
Tarasenko creates unforgettable plays on the ice in a way that suggests he's playing on another level, making the opposing team look like traffic cones out there.
He was the lucky recipient of a shot that went off a Blackhawks player skate to push the Blues ahead 2-1, but he doesn't need much help on the ice. His second goal that put the Blues up 3-1 came on a pass that he corralled quickly and fired over Corey Crawford's glove. Tarasenko put a season high 9 shots on Crawford, and came away with two goals.
It wasn't always a pretty game. The Blues were being manhandled early by the Blackhawks aggressive forecheck and couldn't handle the bouncy puck on the ice. A factor all season has been that the Blues have no true big body to place in front of the net. They struggled with that for 20 minutes today. By the time the first period finished, the Blues had found the footing.
Patrik Berglund capitalized on a brilliant feed from Jay Bouwmeester and tied the game at 1, but it was the post-goal shove he gave Brent Seabrook that lingered. The small things led the Blues to surge ahead; the offensive zone pressure, the relentless shots and the inability of Hawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to clear pucks out of their zone. The Blues outshot, outscored, and just out-played the Blackhawks. Monday wasn't just a win on the scoreboard. It was a convincing beat-down.
By the time the seconds ticked off the clock and Blues fans were on their feet, the Blues took to center ice to do their usual home game celebratory stick wave. That wasn't all. Tarasenko finished up his interviews and took a huge selfie in front of the Cards dugout. It was that kind of afternoon and event. Several Blues pumped their fists towards the crowd upon leaving.
While they have been the underdog in their own city for 50 years, the Blues have taken pride in their "little guy" persona. They got the big stage Monday afternoon and savored it. In front of a sold-out Busch, they beat their long-time rival in convincing fashion.
The weather may have been a bigger antagonist over the weekend than the Blackhawks, but St. Louis, Busch Stadium and the Blues made short work of them during these festivities.
Fan photos: Celebrating the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium
For all the Winter Classic fame they get, the Blackhawks are 0-3 in the contests, and just 1-4 in outdoor games. They may get the attention and love from NBC and other networks, but it was the Blues time Monday.
What that means going forward is anyone's guess. The Blues have beat a couple impressive rosters in Philadelphia and Chicago this past week, but got embarrassed by a Pekka Rinne-P.K. Subban-less Predators team on Friday. They are just 20-13-5 and incapable of putting together a winning streak.
January is when the identity of a team needs to be established. What kind of personality this Blues team has is yet to be determined. They are a quick flashy bunch, but they lack the physicality that a Hitchcock game requires and the goaltending hasn't been stellar. What they have learned over the past three months will have to be converted into real energy soon.
Alex Steen is still missing, even with his two points Monday. Jori Lehtera is a waste of space. The Blues aren't in trouble, but will need more to stand with the Hawks and Minnesota Wild.
All that didn't seem to hamper a glorious Winter Classic at Busch. 7th and Spruce was packed. Clark was full. Ballpark Village was loaded up. The heartland of hockey showed up and banged its chest. The NHL and the rest of the world got a notification of just how strong Blues hockey fandom is.
Photos: Fans outside Winter Classic
At the end of it all, the Blues won 4-1.
Fans got what they wanted today. Tarasenko scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner. Allen outplayed Crawford. The house was packed with Blues jerseys. Owner Tom Stillman was all over the place greeting fans. The action was white hot and the memories will be stored.
After months of anticipation, the Winter Classic is now over, but it won't be forgotten. The Blues picked up two points and now look to continue this homestand on the right note.
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